MONEYSLANE reached the Alan Wilson Cup Final for the first time with a stunning second half display against Valley Rangers at the weekend in front of a mass of Blue and White supporters.
Crystal Park was the venue for this much anticipated Alan Wilson Cup semi-final and the build up between these two clubs had been intense to say the least. The pitch was in perfect condition, the weather couldn’t have been better and the atmosphere was electrifying.
The Mournemen started the brightest and they produced a save from the Slane keeper Nigel Fry when Richard Graham hit a powerful shot that Nigel could only parry out. It fell nicely to Jonny Cranston who blasted it goal bound but Aaron Marks came flying across the six yard box to made a splendid block and deflect for a corner.
The Slane back four of Weir, Porter, Marks and Boyd were working hard to thwart the Valley strikers who were busy making room with good runs up the flanks.
It was a cagey opening quarter to the game with both teams trying to probe away through two very tight defences and there was a subdued tranquillity in the crowd waiting for this Cup tie to burst into life.
Valley’s Any McCoy hit a free kick from 20 yards out but Fry was well placed with a safe pair of hands.
Jonny Whitten found the feet of Kerr and he dinked past his marker and lobbed the ball forward and Gareth Bingham chested into the path of Jason Gibson who fired in his effort but it took a deflection of Richard Hanna and went wide for a corner.
Controversy on the half hour when Cranston hit from 20 yards out and Nigel Fry pushed the ball onto the post and gathered himself of the ground to gather the loose ball but he was pushed over the line by Ritchie Graham and the ref pointed for a free out much to the annoyance of the Valley management and players.
It was a very even game with both teams blanking each other out in midfield with some feisty but fair tackles flying in.
Gareth Bingham fired his effort wide of the post and Slane were working hard to create chances as Valley upped the tempo.
Valley were rewarded a corner and Cranston curled the ball dangerously into the crowded area and Irvine got the touch that counted and the ball flew into the back of the Slane net for the opening goal.
The visitors continued to push Slane back deep into their own half and were rewarded another free kick that was floated to the back post where Thomas Graham was lurking and he headed across the six yard box and Ritchie Graham was inches of making the header that would surely have sent them into the break two nil up.
Slane were gutted when Jason Gibson had to limp off with an injury going into half time.
Manager Neil McCullough must have given his players a good stern talking too at half time as they came out a revitalised side attacking from the first whistle.
Kyle Scott replaced the injured Jason Gibson and the big Rathfriland man was a real thorn in the Valley defence with his physical presence and work rate off the ball.
The Blue and White Supporters didn’t have long to wait for the equaliser. Five minutes in Jonny Whitten was released wide on the right by Chris Kerr and Whitten raced forward and unleashed and unstoppable pile driver that sailed past the outreached arm of Bailie and into the far corner of the net.
Valley were vulnerable and were chasing shadows leaving themselves exposed at the back and Slane were squeezing them back, tightening the grip on the jugular.
Kyle Scott raced forward when Aaron Marks lobbed the ball over the top and his effort sailed just over the bar.
Referee, Gerard Murray was having a splendid game in the middle of the park and he was letting the game flow freely as the intensity of the game was rising and the supporters were getting louder and louder baying for another goal.
On the hour Slane took the lead, Weir and Porter combined at the back and the ball was played into Gareth Bingham who slipped it wide to Whitten who became provider, his inch perfect cross into the penalty area was met with a venomous half volley by John Davenport and the ball nested in the back of the net.
The Blue and White Army’s supporters were going wild with excitement up the line knowing that history could be made on the day getting a place in the final and they were the twelfth man pushing their side forward and encouraging them to chase every ball.
Aaron Marks was a tower of strength alongside Gary Porter and both players have grown in confidence and both wing backs Weir and Boyd were playing the games of their lives firing in tackle after tackle.
G Bingham and Chris Kerr had the midfield sewn up working their socks off covering every blade of grass and Davenport and Whitten upped their performance on the day tiring out the Valley full backs with their energetic runs up the wings.
Kyle Scott again came close but his effort went the wrong side of the post, Thomas Lockhart was posing a major threat every time he received the ball and it was him who put the game to bed with ten minutes left on the clock. He beat the offside trap and unleashed a thunderbolt of a shot that arrowed straight into the far corner past Bailie to make it a comfortable passage into the cup final much to the delight of hundreds of Blue and White supporters u p the line and the management staff in the dugout.
Neil Bingham and Mark Anderson were also a power of strength when they came off the bench working their socks off and this season Neil McCullough has the advantage of having depth of good players on and off the field.
Slane sat back in the final few minutes sponging up the Valley attacks but Fry had very little to do in front of a solid hard working defence lead by man of the match Aaron Marks.
Overall a massive win for Slane and there will be a big buzz around the Club as they wait eight weeks for the final which will be held at Armagh City’s ground against league leaders Ballymacash on Friday night 26th April.
Overall Valley were more superior in the first half but Slane mastered the second half with easily their best performance of the season and rose to the occasion and delivered on the day.
The Club would like to wish Valley all the best for the rest of the season and a special mention to the referee Gerard Murray who put in a solid performance in the middle of the park which makes a big difference in big games like these.
Slane Team: N Fry, R Weir, G Porter, D Boyd, A Marks, J Whitten, C Kerr, J Davenport, G Bingham, J Gibson, T Lockhart, K Scott, R Shilliday, N Bingham, M Anderson.